“They were given two years to present their witnesses. But they failed.. I wonder where they are going to get their witnesses now.” – Mrs. Concepcion Empeño
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – The pretrial hearing for the case of kidnapping and serious illegal detention against Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan was held Nov. 24 at the Malolos Regional Trial Court branch 14.
Palparan, the highest military official ever indicted for human rights violations, was arrested in the wee hours of Aug. 12, due to a standing warrant in relation to the disappearance of two students of the University of the Philippines Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan.
During the pretrial, both the prosecution and the defense marked their evidences and a list of witnesses to be presented in court.
The prosecution team is set to present at least 15 witnesses.
The defense, on the other hand, said they will present more than 30 witnesses, some they did not name due to security risks. They also did not provide original copies for some of the document evidence they presented while their Exhibits 10 to 39 are “reserved documents” and that it would be submitted before the court as soon as they are able to procure them.
Last week, on Nov. 20, the families of the victims filed a petition for certiorari before the Court of Appeals, questioning the Malolos Court’s ruling that allowed the transfer of Palparan to the Philippine Army Custodial Center.
Anotado’s lawyer Abner Torres said they will present at least four witnesses for his client and two for Osorio. The said witnesses, he claimed, would provide testimony to prove that Anotado was hospitalized, while Osorio was working on his deployment for Liberia at the time of the incident.
“They were given two years to present their witnesses. But they failed, citing various reasons such as the difficulties of locating soldiers deployed in various provinces in the country and the lack of resources. I wonder where they are going to get their witnesses now,” Mrs. Concepcion Empeño, mother of Karen, said in an interview.
For the past few years, Mrs. Empeño said, she could no longer feel the Christmas spirit.
“Every Christmas, Karen would invite her friends to come over and eat with us. But since she was abducted, no one would be there to eat with us. I no longer cook for our noche buena. I do not even put Christmas decorations,” Mrs. Empeño told activists who were holding a protest action outside the Malolos court.
Addressing her speech this time to retired Palparan, she said, “you are already old and yet you pity yourself. My daughter is young and could do more and help those in need.”
Inside the courtroom, at least 10 soldiers were present, as in the previous hearings. But this time, only two were covering Palparan. He would, from time to time, stand up and confer with his lawyers.
The Malolos court also granted the petition of Palparan’s co-accused Col. Felipe Anotado Jr. and Sgt. Edgardo Osorio to allow them to present evidence.
The case against Anotado and Osorio had already been submitted for resolution to the court, but the court granted a motion for reconsideration filed by the two.
During the hearing, Judge Gonzales said that since the some witnesses that would be presented against Palparan and his two co-accused are the same, she would like to listen to it again to get the “whole picture.”
Raymond Manalo, one of the key witnesses of the case, identified Anotado and said that the military official visited the 24th IB’s military camp in Limay, Bataan three times. He said that during his first visit, Anotado went to the stockroom where the two UP students were detained.
Manalo said Anotado tried to convince the two to change their ways. He added that Anotado even talked to him.
Osorio, on the other hand, was identified by eyewitness Wilfredo Ramos as the one who hogtied him and his father when the two students and farmer Manuel Merino were abducted from their home.
Outside the court, activists, mostly from Southern Tagalog region who are participating in the Manilakbayan, held a protest action.
Mrs. Erlinda Cadapan, mother of Sherlyn, thanked them for their support.
“With us today are families, colleagues and loved ones of those who were victims of Palparan. They were not paid to be here,” Mrs. Cadapan said, chiding on “supporters” of Palparan who had also gathered outside the court.
Meanwhile, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) called on the Philippine government to ensure the expeditious prosecution of Palparan and to stop the special treatment being accorded to him.
Such situation, the lawyers group said, sends a message that the government will protect its own regardless of their misdeeds and would set a bad precedent.
The special treatment for Palparan would also discourage other victims of human rights violations from filing criminal complaints, the IADL said.
The group also called on the government to ensure that the security arrangements for Palparan will not, in any way, interfere with the court’s discretion or intimidate the families of the victims.